Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Castanada's Mexican Food -- 101 E Foothill Ave Pomona, CA 91767

My Meal Cost: $23.71 for 2. Health Rating A. Yelp 2.5 stars

It's done, stick a fork in it. Yay, I've successfully eaten at all 56 currently open eateries on Garey Avenue starting at the extreme south at the 60 Freeway where I ate at In-N-Out, all the way north to Foothill and Garey where I just finished at CastaƱeda's Mexican Food. A long journey that took 58 weeks (one a week with a skip recently, but I did eat on Garey the weeks of July 4, Memorial Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas).

This was a bit OCD in many people's minds, but it was a good test of setting out with a goal that very few thought I would see through, and then seeing it through. I remember when Inland Valley Daily Bulletin columnist David Allen saw my blog in the early days that he wondered if I would make it all the way where others had given up. I made a deal with him that if I got close to the end, I'd sit down with him and let him write a column on it. Many of you saw it and have responded. Well, now I've actually finished.

This final entry is a small chain restaurant, CastaƱeda's. They have 23 locations, mostly in the Coachella valley, through Riverside, San Bernardino and Corona, with outliers in La Habra, Azusa, and Pomona. I should at this point mention that they are open 24 hours (for those craving a taco at 4:00 am, although I believe that it's only the drive-thru) and that they're "Home of the Carne Asada Fries."

The place is a nice clean operation that looks like any nice clean fast food place (think Mickey D's, Carl's Jr., or Taco Bell). A counter for ordering, with a menu board and a self-serve fountain for beverages. Tables with chairs give you a place to eat in and they have the ubiquitous, and busy while we were there, drive-thru.

The person behind the counter was pleasant, although it's somewhat disconcerting when they're ringing up your order and talking into a headset to someone in the drive-thru, but that happens all over the place today.

The Lovely Mrs. C, accompanied me on this trip so we ordered different things and then "sampled" some of each other's items. The menu is quite extensive with burritos plates, tacos, tortas, rolled taquitos, tostadas, enchiladas, breakfast plates, breakfast burritos, burritos, menudo, and 25 different combination plates. The lovely Mrs. C decided to try a shrimp burrito and augmented it with three chicken flautas. I, after looking at the extensive menu, decided to see how this compared with my last Mexican dinner at Los Jarritos and so I had the #17 Chile Relleno and Enchilada. The combination came with salad, rice, and beans. We each had a medium fountain beverage (Coke for the Lovely Mrs. C, diet Coke for me).

The meals were delivered to our table (no number to place on the table, no name given to be yelled out, just a counter person who remembered who ordered what--impressive). The time from order to delivery was just enough time to retrieve a beverage and get settled.

The presentation of the dishes was quite good. The food looked lovely and enticing. The actual taste experience?

First, the beans and rice. The beans were creamy but lacked any discernible spice making them somewhat bland. They did melt a little shredded cheddar over the top and stuck in a couple of tortilla chips which ended up crispy except where they were stuck into the beans where they were limp and soggy. Similarly the rice was nothing to write home about. It was somewhat dry and had no real flavor at all. I did make a stop at the salsa bar and picked up some salsa, radish slices, and cucumber slices. The addition of the salsa to the rice and the beans helped to give them a bit of flavor.

The cheese enchilada was a corn tortilla wrapped around shredded cheddar cheese (or processed American?) with a slight amount of a red sauce over the top of both the enchilada and the relleno. The cheese was melted but a bit grainy instead of creamy. It just didn't seem to be the right cheese for this kind of dish. The sauce, what there was of it, as bland and most of is was on top of the relleno which I ate first so by the time I got to the enchilada, there wasn't enough to counteract the cheese. The relleno had a nice coating, not too eggy, and it was filled with a creamy, melted white cheese. The chile they used was a rather small chile, unlike the nice large one at Los Jarritos, so didn't seem like a great value, it was good, but there wasn't a lot of it. That makes the inclusion on their menu of a 2 chile rellenos combination plate a lot more understandable.

The salad! What can I say . . . it was a very nicely presented on the plate. A bed of lettuce with chopped tomato, onion, and red pepper sprinkled on one side and a stripe of sour cream (crema) in the center. It really was quite lovely. However, the plate they serve their combinations on have three compartments, one for the rice, one for the beans, and one for the main item. That means that this salad was layered over the end of the rice, enchilada and relleno. So when you ate the salad, the crema and juices mixed with the enchilada sauce and made the items below mushy and took away from any flavor the enchilada sauce might have had.

The lovely Mrs. C reports that the shrimp burrito was good. the large flour tortilla was crispy on top, but  the sauce, rice, and beans inside the burrito made the bottom very soft, so it was very difficult to pick up and eat. She ended up eating it with a knife and fork. Before we got our order, she was curious as to whether the burrito would be dressed with a white (tartar style) or red sauce. The answer was a red sauce that appeared to be the same as the enchilada sauce on my meal. The shrimp were grilled and she said quite tasty. She felt that the burrito was mild in the spice area (since she doesn't really like any spiciness, this means that it's probably VERY mild indeed).

While she thought a burrito on its own might not be enough, she found that she couldn't finish the three flautas so I did get to sample one of them. The flautas in this case were flour tortillas wrapped around rice and chicken, topped with crema and a guacamole sauce (I say sauce rather than just guacamole, because it was quite thin and seemed to have more sour cream than avocado. More like a green goddess dressing than a guacamole. I found them to be rather bland. By this time I had used all of the salsa that I had gotten, but I think that it would have benefitted from a bit of that salsa.

Thus ends the GREAT ADVENTURE. I hope that you've enjoyed following as I visited some good, some mediocre, some questionable, and some exciting spots along Pomona's main north-south corridor.

There are still four traditional restaurant spaces which may one day see new life and if they do I'll try and revisit here to add them. The one's I'm referring to are the former Playa Azul at Philadelphia Street, the former El Tapatio near Grand, the former Firehouse Inn at Alvarado, and the former Casa Jimenez just south of Foothill in the big shopping center where I reviewed Happy Wok.

I've also just noticed that the signage for DeAnda Tacos has been returned. Did Gil's Tacos not work out? Is it once again part of the Orange County DeAnda chain? You may see an update on that page in the near future.

But for now, I'm going to take a rest, get myself out of the "oh my God, I've got to get out to the Pizza place that's next on the list and write a review. What the heck can I say about my 5th take-out pizza place" routine.

While I don't think I'll try anything as structured as this, you might see me writing about other restaurants in Pomona, or perhaps experiences beyond food. But I will be looking at doing something to highlight the Queen of the Valley, Pomona.


Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Jack in the Box--North -- 101 W Foothill Blvd Pomona, CA 91767

My Meal Cost: $11.82. Health Rating A. Yelp 3 stars

I'm in the process of finishing up my 13 month adventure in Eating Garey. This week finds me at Jack-in-the-Box at Foothill and Garey, the furthest north of any restaurants on Garey. Yippee?

As this is the third Jack-in-the-Box I've visited on this quest, I'm pretty familiar with the chain and its offerings. This one is a little smaller than some of them but clean and bright. No street people hanging out like at the 2 Yelp star location at Holt and Garey, nor any of the school kids who seem to frequent the one on Towne and the 10 Freeway. Just a nice quiet, friendly place for a quick lunch.

After ordering, I found myself a nice table in the small but well decorated (with Jack stuff) dining room and noticed another table with 5 gentlemen standing at the table with clip boards and speaking Spanish. While I'm, unfortunately, monolingual and didn't understand anything they were saying, I was intrigued as I watch one of the gentlemen eating an order of fries. He would take a fry out of the container, stick the probe of what looked like a digital thermometer into one end, take a reading and then eat the fry. Another of the gentlemen was doing the same with some other food item that I couldn't quite make out (at least without staring too much). As I ate my meal I saw them doing inspections of the garbage cans, the restrooms, then go into the kitchen area and end up walking around the parking lot and drive-thru. I'm guessing that this was a group from corporate checking out the location. Hopefully it passed muster (or at least mustard).

I decided to order the new buttery bacon swiss cheeseburger combo with curly fries and a medium drink. I also added to my order 3 stuffed jalapeno poppers (I love those &%@# things) which came with "house buttermilk dressing" also known as Ranch (I'm guessing there is a copyright or trademark issue there somewhere).

After ordering at the window and receiving a number, I was left to get my own fountain drink. This location has a Coke Freestyle machine which means that you have hundreds of beverage options. I chose a Cherry Coke Zero, with a few splashes of Dasani Cherry to add a little extra cherry kick. I love the Freestyle machines and the many options it affords for someone like me who, as a diabetic, needs to drink a non-sugar beverage. I then found a table and shortly thereafter a very pleasant young lady brought me my order. Good, friendly service, with a smile.

The burger, while having a buttery flavor and adequate bacon, was a bit dry. It had a schmear of mayonnaise, but that wasn't enough. I tried adding some of the ranch dressing from my poppers, but that changed the flavor in an unfavorable way so I wouldn't recommend it. I don't usually do curly fries, but decided to go for it this time and they were quite crispy with just the right amount of crunch. They were actually though a little bland. They might have benefited from a little salt or some other seasoning.

Next week I end this adventure. Hopefully on a high note. Thanks for following.

 FINAL POST:  Castaneda's Mexican Food

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Los Jarritos -- 3191 N Garey Ave Pomona, CA 91767

My Meal Cost: $35.22 for 3 plus tip. Health Rating A. Yelp 4 stars

Shortly after I started this adventure, I was contacted by David Allen at the Daily Bulletin who suggested that he might want to do a column on my adventure, if or when, I was about at the end. I sometimes forward him little items about Pomona that I collect so we've had a friendly relationship for a number of years. As a matter of fact, I'm mentioned in this morning's column as well. And he indicated that he plans to feature Los Jarritos as his restaurant of the week on his blog tomorrow. Since this week's post is the third from the last (unless something new opens in the interim), I invited David to join me at Los Jarritos for a leisurely lunch.

Since this place is also a favorite of the Lovely Mrs. C, I also asked her as well (she could also keep me honest). We met David at 1:00 pm and I have to say that, probably because the conversation was all about me, that I had quite an enjoyable 2 hours.

This restaurant is a full-service, sit-down restaurant. We seated ourselves, but once seated the waiter showed up almost immediately with a bowl of chips and salsa. If you've read this blog in the past you know that I like a chunky salsa with my chips and this one was a fully liquid version with nothing to scoop up on my chip. However, it was not overly spicy, so it was OK for the Lovely Mrs. C.

Their are actually two rooms for dining. We chose the main dining room with the view of the open kitchen. It is bright and airy with sunlight (even on a very overcast and threatening day) streaming in floor to ceiling windows on two sides. The smaller room isn't quite as light. The place was fairly busy for a Tuesday lunchtime but not so busy that the wait staff was crushed.

Photo of all of the dishes ordered by the three of us.

The menu includes burritos, nachos, breakfast items, sides, salads, and a dinner menu of combination plates, including Chili Rellenos, Enchiladas, tacos, carnitas, and most of the regular items you would expect. They also serve menudo on the weekend and if you bring your own pot they will fill it for you.

The Lovely Mrs. C decided on her favorite all meat, carne asada burrito with cheese and guacamole only on it. She also decided on a side order of the beans which she really enjoys. Our guest, Mr. Allen decided on a combination burrito which came with rice and beans inside. Both of their items came with a small salad on the plate.

For myself, I decided that I needed to order a full meal so as to properly compare with the other Mexican restaurants on this blog. I ordered a combination with Chile Relleno and chicken enchilada, and a diet coke.
This was my combo plate.

The combination plate also came with rice and beans. 

First, the rice. I've had it before and was always pleased with the moistness and garlicky flavor of this version. It did not call out for the addition of the salsa, which, being more of a sauce would have worked here, but I didn't even think to add it. The beans were creamy and smooth and had good flavor, just what I look for in my Mexican sides. 

The enchilada could have used a bit more sauce as it was a little dry, but it was loaded with tender chunks of flavorful chicken. The chile was covered with sauce and cheese (which seemed to have kept more of the sauce on the chili) and was an excellent example. Sometimes the batter on the chile is overpowering, but this batter was light and didn't detract from the flavors of the mild pepper, the cheese stuffing, nor the sauce.

Both David and Mrs. C seemed to like their offerings as well. As mentioned, David is going to list Los Jarritos as his restaurant of the week on his blog tomorrow, so I imagine we'll get a better idea of what he thought by checking there.

A place that I'm sure I'll come back to time and time again.

UP NEXT:  Jack-in-the-Box

Only 2 left! Jack-in-the-Box next week (yay?) and then Castenedas Mexican Restaurant. A little over a year. Whew!

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Jasmine’s Restaurant & Hookah Lounge -- 3171 N Garey Ave Pomona, CA 91767

My Meal Cost: $15.26 plus tip. Health Rating A. Yelp 4 stars

A little bit of background on me. I'm a non-smoker. I grew up in a household of all smokers and have always hated it. I avoid smoke as much as possible. When I was younger and in the workforce, everyone smoked and it couldn't be avoided. Every desk had ashtrays. I worked in food service at Disneyland while in college and there were ash trays at every table, which I had to clean. I really HATE cigarette smoke and am not a fan of any smoking. I was thrilled when restaurants started having "no smoking" sections, although they did little to keep the smoke from wafting into that area. Flying was also a lot of fun during that time.

Having said all of that, this week's restaurant is actually a Hookah Lounge that serves food. Make no mistake, their first activity is smoking, indoors. One side of the menu for this place is food, and drinks, the other side is all hookah options and pricing.

With all of that, my commitment to this blog meant that I had to eat ALL of Garey Avenue's restaurants so I found myself at this place last evening after attending a Pomona Reads! meeting. When I arrived I was met by a "host" who showed me the menu and suggested that I sit anywhere. There were two other occupied tables, one with a gentleman puffing away at a hookah, and the other with two young women. I chose a table as far away from the smoke as I could get.

The room itself if nicely decorated with tables, where I sat, and couches and lounge chairs. There is softish rap music playing in the background and, at this time, there was the channel 5 news playing on a large screen TV. Soon, the two young women also got a hookah. I must say that watching the very large apparatus being carried out, and then the coals being blown on and placed on the top was at least interesting.

The VERY limited menu had 6 sandwiches and pizza for the food options as well as 8 appetizers which included wings, fries, falafel, hummus, grape leaves, and chicken tenders. The sandwich menu was two different philly sandwiches (chicken and beef), gyros, falafel, and two different shawarma sandwiches (chicken or beef). The pizzas were three different sizes of cheese pizza with additional toppings to order. No alcohol on the menu.

The waiter was friendly and I ended up ordering the beef shawarma sandwich combo (with fries and beverage -- refills extra). The sandwich came wrapped burrito style in a pita bread with thin sliced beef, onion, and bell pepper. The fries were moderately sprinkled with season salt. I got a Coke Zero to go with it. At $10 for the sandwich and an additional $4 to make it a combo, it was not a lot of food for your dollar.

The sandwich was juicy and the meat tender. However, for me at least, the level of cloves in the spice mix was overpowering. I couldn't really taste the onion and pepper over the cloying sweetness of clove.

This place is probably OK if you're a hookah smoker. That's what this place really is. The idea that it's a restaurant AND hookah lounge is a bit misleading as the focus of the business is on the hookah experience and the food and drink is only there to supplement. As someone who does everything I can to avoid smoke, I don't think I'll be back.

UP NEXT:  Los Jarritos II